why you should slow down on fast food

Look, gloves off, here is the straight scoop about fast food. I have written before how fast food is more a function of economics over taste or preference. I myself am not a total stranger to the drive through window, but I know that I indulge in that only once or twice a month.  Also, I am under no illusion that I am getting real food, I know I am filling my gut for a short term solution to a time crunch, period.

We all know that a regular diet that includes fast food will lead to  weight gain and can increase the likelihood of developing diabetes. That’ s a fact, and if you didn’t know that…..well, now you do.

Her’s another fact: let’s start with breakfast. Fast food eggs are made of dimethylpolysiloxane (found in lubricants and silly putty) and gycerin (found in soap). Though it might be better to just eat the soap and lube because other menu items might be surprising too. For instance, most fast food burgers contain only about 2 to 14% real meat. Most of the patty is chemical filler, that’s why they don’t spoil. When something doesn’t rot, you can bet it’s not organic or natural.  So forget the beef, get the chicken.

looks harmless

looks harmless

Maybe not. “Dad, which part of the chicken is the nugget?” Great question. It’s actually from various parts. In fact it’s from a process called mechanical separation: which is made from a slimy soup created from processed bones and other unusable carcass parts. (Mmmm right?) So, skip the chicken and go for a salad.

Hold the fork because even the salad choices are suspect. For example, a BK salad is 500 calories with 28 grams of fat and a day’s worth of sodium. But sadly still, probably your best choice. But often the salads are loaded with High Fructose Corn Syrup, a cheap sweetener (definitely in the soft drinks and desserts) and a study from Princeton showed HFCS as a major cause of obesity.

Did you also know that fast food can be addictive? Yup, a study by Garber & Lustig shows a correlation of addictive behavior and fast food consumption. The CDC explains that obesity has gone up 100% in children and 300% in adolescents since 1984. So let’s connect the dots: HFCS causes obesity, HFCS is in many fast food menu options. Obesity is in a raging increase. Draw your conclusion.

For a healthy choice for your kids see: Our gym page at Gymfinity.com


the battle for control of our children

I was a health teacher in a middle school. I said the same thing to my health students, boys and girls, as I do to my team kids and my own children today. “Losing control of yourself is the worst thing that can happen to you. Whether you lose control to another person, like a boyfriend or girlfriend, or to a thing like alcohol or a drug; not being able to determine what you do is the worst position you can be in.” I believe that we should be empowering children for their life.

I feel that we are fighting an uphill battle. Not in regard to drugs or drink, though that could be argued. I feel that we have to realize the impact of what our kids see in marketing messages. Girls particularly have so much to overcome to get to a point where they can feel OK about themselves. From the get-go, they hear that they are not attractive and attractive is all that matters. They are not fashionable, and fashion is matters. They are not strong, and strength only comes with satisfying your man.  These are all wrong.

We need to unite as A.A..C’s (Adults Affecting Children)* in teaching children that they are OK just the way they are; and despite the advertising world trying to make them feel inadequate, they are just fine. They need to understand that no matter what they wear, where they go, or who they see, it is the person inside that people should know. It is only by letting others know who we are inside that we can find if they are friends or not. If not, then too bad for the lost friend, you didn’t need them anyway.

So when we see a company advertising to our children that they are somehow not good enough or incomplete without a given product, we need to understand that the company is trying to control our children’s minds. They are forming those kid’s thought realities.  When you are school shopping, watch the messages that your kids hear. Explain to them that the first day of school is just another day, it’s not a pageant and it’s not to judge the other kids by what they have or don’t have, wear or don’t wear.  Lets empower them to be strong, independent, and unaffected by high pressure marketing. We need to be there to bring our kids back to the truth. Can we all agree on that? Please. I can’t do it alone.

* Yes we do all have an effect on children but A.A.C. is not a real title or organization, it’s just me being hilarious**

** I often feel that I am funny, and I am really quite funny in my own mind. When I write things like that it’s best to  just smile and nod.

See also: Our gym page at Gymfinity.com


Over-rewarded and under-trained.

In high school I had a 3.8 grade point and I can only remember taking books home a few times. Success at our school was basically showing up, listening, doing the minimal work assigned and succeeding. Then I went to college and was shown, in no short time, that just showing up wasn’t enough. I started college with a 2.1 G.P.A. and nearly lost my place on the gymnastics team.

My son’s compete in Trampoline and Tumbling and have been in the USTA (United States Trampoline/Tumbling Association) for the last 2 years. In their competitions every child wins a trophy, recently the switched to medals at some meets due to cost, (USTA, my overcrowded shelves thank you). Today, participation trophies are expected by the kids and parents, in fact I heard a mom actually complain when her kid got a medal instead of a trophy. I guess to her the value was in the goodie bag and not the party (sorry, for the birthday party reference).

Studies have shown that the science of the over-rewarding of children is indisputable;.  Ashley Merryman (with Po Bronson, author of “NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children” and “Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing”) reports that awards can be powerful motivators, but nonstop recognition does not inspire children to succeed. In fact it can cause them to underachieve.  By the age of 4 kids have already figured out that some kids are good at a performance and some are not. And it is true that we often see the kids who are not proficient can get frustrated and drop out. But we also see that kids who excel often feel cheated when everyone is rewarded the same despite their talent or effort. The kids who excel also get frustrated and quit. Is that what we wanted?

Different activities, gymnastics being one that I can attest to, are more appealing because the participation is challenging. Not knowing if they will win, place or show is exciting. Knowing that an unpointed toe is the difference between 1st and 2nd place makes the details important. That adds value to the sport or activity and the time and effort spent training it. If every child in a meet received a trophy what is the motivation to learn, grow, try-fail-and try again?

Yes we do have an annual show at Gymfinity and every child gets a medal. But that is a show and every child is rewarded for participating. Never, during the course of the event, do we try to pass it off as a competition. I am aware that kids feel great when they are recognized; that is what the show is all about. It’s a time to show what you learned and not to be confused with what you can do in comparison to another person. That is competition, and that is where I have a concern.

Studies show that kids respond positively to praise; that point is not in contention. But Carol Dweck (Stanford University) tells us that children accustomed to regular praise of ability regardless of outcome will likely crumble at the first sign of difficulty, then demoralized by their failure the kids say that they would rather “cheat” next time then experience failing again. Is that what we want?

Having studied recent increases in narcissism and entitlement among college students, Jean Twenge, author of “Generation Me”  warns that we are setting up our children to believe that all it takes to succeed is to “show up”. I started by stating my high school rewarded me into that belief until reality (Actually it was reality and Dr. Parker) taught me differently. Had I not been raised to try harder when I failed, I would have quit school thinking that the system was rigged, or that it was too hard for a kid like me. I didn’t quit, in fact I graduated college with honors because I worked hard to reverse my poor start. In life, “you’re going to lose more often than you win, even if you’re good at something,” Ms. Twenge says, “You’ve got to get used to that to keep going.”

However, we have developed a system where we teach children that merely breathing at an event is worthy of reward. They are not allowed to fail and so they never learn the value of it.  Our goal should be to introduce kids to winning AND losing. We should show them that failure is a hurdle that can be overcome with effort. We need to value the growth and development over a longer time than focusing on the rewards that are offered for one moment in time.  My gymnasts are trained for meets 2 years down the road not for the meet that happens next week. They are trained to learn life lessons from the gymnastics model, winning a meet is a glorious byproduct but it cannot be the focus of training.  Of course meets are important and rewards should be given to those who earn them. But as adults we need to see that there is value in not winning, in fact, I believe that winning and losing both can be motivators to continue striving for excellence. With that as a philosophy how on Earth can we hand out trophies without meaning? Let me answer that: If rewards of no value will get children to quit, be frustrated, devalue participation, and ultimately be trained to believe that hard work, diligent focus and standing up after falling down have no value; then our goal must be to reverse everything our parents ever taught us.  Is that really what we want?   


Choosing sports

Kids today are faced with so many choices. When it comes to activities should they do an academic program (one of my sons does a Lego Robot class, the other takes Spanish)? Should they do community or volunteer programs? Should they do sports? If so which one? Swimming is a life skill. Tennis is a life-long activity. Gymnastics is a foundation for all other sports. Baseball is a great team sport that promotes socialization. So much to consider.

Understand also that if you choose the activity, or the sport for your child then the child doesn’t have any ownership in the decision. It becomes just another thing you tell them to do, like cleaning a room, picking up socks or taking out trash. If they have no input on the choice I will assure you that their participation will be short lived.Kids Play is AWESOME

Sometimes kids just can’t make a decision. Then it is imperative that we offer some guidance. However, this is one of those things where we need o make kids feel that they are making a decision, even though we are guiding the process. We can look up YouTube videos of the sport being played, we can travel to competitions to watch, or we can read books (on paper? What?) about a sport. I have even had kids make lists of what they like and don’t like about sports and then guide the decision by offering positives and help the decision.  In my case, and with my children, my wife and I talked about our experiences in gymnastics. We talked about how fun it was for us, and all the things we learned by being gymnasts. (Oh, and I should add that we own the gym so it was convenient and cost effective as well as a natural progression of their built-in playground.)

Lastly, whatever the choice, let them play it out, so to speak. Maybe they find that they don’t really like it, like we experienced with soccer and basketball. But we made the kids finish the season because that was the commitment they made. They needed to know that decisions need to be followed by action. But now my kids have chosen sports and activities that they love and we encourage them in every way we can. Read back a few posts and review the post about When Parents Make Kids Love Sports. We need to let them know, win or lose, we love the fact that they are playing. 


When parents make kids love sports

I learned an invaluable lesson from the fine folks at Proactive Sports. No matter how my kids perform at a meet or a game I convey the message that I love to watch them play.  That concept is why kids often prefer that their grandparents come to see them in meets. They know that there is no judgment. The older, wiser grandparents convey appreciation for just getting on the floor or field. That makes kids feel great. Parents, as observed in the last post, are often critical of performance for many reasons  but mostly because they want their child to do better.  What I think is funny is that those same accepting grand folks that just love those kids to pieces were the same ones who railed on us for missing a catch or blowing a play. I guess there is something to be said for becoming wiser with age.

As you know from previous postings, I am a big believer in kids being in sport to help them develop into healthy and functional members of society; and in the last post I explained how parents sometimes inadvertently lead their kids away from sports. So it’s only fair that we discuss  a few things that will make them love the sports, love being a player and love you parents even more than they do.

First BE A TRUE FAN, at Gymfinity we encourage parents to cheer for good gymnastics where ever it may come from. We ask them to appreciate the performance of every kid at a meet, not just the kids from Gymfinity. If the parent loves the sport, the child will love doing the sport. Its that simple.SHirt

We also tell parents that when they are in the stands that they represent their daughter or son. Would your child be proud of your behavior?  There should be no bleacher talk or negative criticism of athletes, coaches, programs, judges, or meets. When your child see that you are supportive and positive it allows them to perform confidently knowing that when they do their best, you will accept it.  If kids have a bad meet or game, they know it, and they don’t need to hear from another person that it didn’t go well.  One of the best examples I can think of is when we travelled over 8 hours to a big meet and my gymnast did not perform optimally.  I discussed with her where we needed to apply our efforts before the next meet and we weighed out positives from the experience and lessons we could own from the negatives. She felt awful, but was accepting. When we went over by her mom and dad, her dad picked her up and hugged her without saying a word. The mom said, “where would you like to eat, your choice?” Unconditional, affectionate and accepting. Well done.

Lastly, at Gymfinity we explain that everyone has a role to play at a meet (or game). The athlete is there to perform. It’s what they trained for and they need our help to focus and give them their space to to do their job. The coaches job is to guide the athlete. All training should have been done before the meet/game and coaching at a competition should be limited to reinforcing performance. The coaches other job is to guarantee that the rules are working. If scores need to be questioned or inquiries made, the coach is on the job. Lastly the parent has a job too. They cheer. Period. Before, during, after. I believe that if we all respect each other’s jobs we will have a positive experience. If the roles get crossed there will be confusion and someone, or everyone,  is not going to be happy.

The advice from Proactive Coaching to tell your child that you love watching them play is so important. It validates their effort, allows them space to own their own sports. When your child is ready to talk about how the meet or game went, they will give you a window of opportunity to have that conversation. When you are invited, participate. It means that now they are ready to hear your opinion. But remember that your opinion is only your opinion. It’s not the game plan for next time, its not establishing goals for your child and it’s certainly not putting conditions or their performance.

I learned that after a meet, I tell my kids how I had fun watching what they could do, that I love to see the improvements they made. I usually add about how I enjoyed talking with other team parents. My kids know that I enjoy going to meets. Usually after a bit one of them will say, “did you see when I….?” or “Did you see how I…..? Window opens and the conversation happens. But it always comes back around to how I love watching them do their stuff.


When parents make their kids quit sports

(Almost) every child quits their sport. Some quit because they grow out of it, some quit because they find other interests, some become coaches and never quit, but that’s a separate blog post.  Some kids quit because their parents chase them out of it.

I have had parents withdraw their kids because it was too expensive or because it conflicted with family time. I have had them pull out because it conflicted with school. All of those are valid reasons to change a child’s schedule. I understand each one, and in fact we have strategized to be sure that these are infrequent issues at Gymfinity.  But statistically most kids (75%) drop out by the time they are 13.  Often in gymnastics we see kids pull away because they have a fear of having to do bigger skills and they are old enough to evaluate the risk. They are afraid. Sometimes their skills level out and they feel stagnant. That leads to frustration and the decision to leave. Again, these are reasonable and I have dealt with them all.

Unfortunately I have also dealt with kids who quit because its what they have to do to get their parents back.  I have seen parents who have identified themselves through their child’s participation.  Kids miss the mom or dad that just loves them, the one that doesn’t have performance conditions on affection.  I have seen parents more upset about a fall on beam then their own daughter. That’s not right, what control did the adult have for the event? None. Well maybe not. I have had parents coaching through the windows at the gym with complex hand signals and/or clandestine meetings in the bathroom or coat room. So maybe we can attribute that fall to the parent. (Sarcasm…sort of).  When a parent flips the roles of coach and parent it confuses the athlete and distracts them from doing their best. Kids may quit to get the roles flipped back.

Not my mom“If you don’t win, people will think I am a bad parent”.  Stop laughing, I have heard this said out loud  in veiled parent speak. Often adults think that their value is based off of their  child’s performance.  I remember that when  my oldest played soccer and he was not so good. It wasn’t that he had no skill, it was that he didn’t care to play. I stood on the sidelines in rain and cold (what an awful sport for spectators) and watched my son disengage. I convinced myself that it reflected on me as a parent or worse, as a coach. In fact I remember telling him that people would think less of Gymfinity because he wouldn’t play soccer better.  Yes, I am going to a parent time out for that.  Then I realized that he was like me, he didn’t like team sports, he liked individual sports. He was, in fact, confirming my genetics through his play, ironically.  I have since learned how to better deal with my child in sports and I allow them to own their own performance. (Read more in the next Gymfinity post).   When I was so wrapped up in the game I forgot to be Owen’s dad. He had to quit (and I had to grow up) to get his dad back. I made the transformation from super-critical-man back to Clark Kent, without even using a phone booth. But there was a price to be exacted for it. My son never got to experience the fun of soccer without a 250 pound dad on his back.

Sometimes parents demonstrate their intentions to get their children to quit right in the stands at a meet.  Being upset by a score is futile. We tell our team kids that you cannot control what a judge gives you, you can only do the best you can do, at that moment, in that place. Who knows if a judge had a fight with her husband or missed her morning coffee, or maybe even had too much morning coffee. There are outside factors affecting human performance that are out of our control, so why freak out? . Kids get that; I wish they could teach their parents. I have heard parents bad mouth other athletes or judges.  I have heard them criticize facilities and even weather. All of this is affecting their child’s performance. Yeah, right.  When a child sees and hears this displeasure from a parent they feel that they have in some way disappointed their parent, or in the least, been the cause for frustration and unhappiness.  “Sorry, mom. I did my best“.  And yes  I have even seen children punished based on performance. What does it say when a little girl who loves the sport  has to take down all her gymnastics posters for 1 week because she fell off the beam? It speaks volumes. Unfortunately it tells a child that their mom and dad want them to quit so they don’t have to get punished anymore.

A great exercise is to ask your child what their goals are before a season. Most kids will say that they want to have fun or qualify to state meet. Most goals (if Gymfinity has done it’s job) are not score oriented. Let your child share some goals and then in your head ask yourself if they are the same goals you would have for them. If not, then you have to come to reality. It’s their sport, not yours.

When you can separate yourself from them and allow them to be an athlete; allow them to experience their sport and own their performance then you will have a child  that loves to play and feels fulfilled playing. When your goals are different then theirs, when you measure yourself by their performance, when you blame everything for poor play then you are opening the door for your child to quit sports. What’s worse, is that you are creating a pattern for them to be dissatisfied and non-committal for everything they do. Because they will never be able to please you. If that’s the case, good job you met your goal; but you need a parent time out to examine your behavior.


As you graduate today….

Every year around this time I envy the people who get to make graduation speeches to graduating classes in high schools and colleges. I mean presidents, ambassadors, captains of industry, movie stars? Where are the small business owners, the coaches, and parents? So I am giving my speech to the unfortunate blog reader who tripped over this post. Now have a seat and get ready to throw your hat up in the air at the end.Congratulations. You have reached the threshold of a door that leads to the rest of your life, one of many transitions that you will come to,  the results of one of many decisions you have had to make, the result of Herculean efforts you have endured, but a small accomplishment when you consider what lies before you now.

The wisest advice I can provide is to listen to the ones who went before you. No they may not have the technology and advances that you have today, but they have done what they have done in spite of it. They have accomplished so much including the construction of the door you cross through now to advance to the life before you.  I have been where you are. I went where you are going. I have tapped the wisdom of those that went with me and those that went before me. I have succeeded, I have failed, and I have learned.

Life does not present itself like a Google search. All information is not readily available at any given time. In fact life is the only class that will provide the test first and the lesson after. You will have to use trial and error and you should embrace failures. Failures tell us at least we tried to succeed and that separates us from 90% of other people who never even have the will to try to win. Understand also that you are young, failures may be commonplace at this stage and that’s OK. Soon, with perseverance, those failures morph into opportunities and those opportunities grow into success. The important thing is that you stay true to yourself. Your character is the guiding framework from which all of your decisions, all of your failures and all of your success will be built.

Look around you. People on either side, in front and in back are in the same boat that you are in. They are thinking, “what now?”  Well let me tell you this: you are still expected to be young and immature. Take advantage of that and stop trying to be so grown up so soon. There will be plenty of time for getting “mature” later on. Be young, think differently, be free, make mistakes. It’s ok to be “hurtin for cash” because soon you will be working for cash. Don’t let a position become a job now. Jobs are for putting bread on the table, work is called work because it’s hard. You will have hard work soon enough. For now find passion, find joy in what you do. Then to be truly successful, find a way to get paid for being that happy. Then it will never be just a job. It will be your life and it will be your success and it will be amazing.

In my father’s generation people looked for a job and they worked to make it into a career. In your generation every position is a stepping stone to a better place, a better situation, a new town, a new company, or a new chapter in life. Keep your eyes open for opportunities but never forget that loyalty is a character trait. Look for higher ground but be satisfied with where you are standing.

Understand that life is a pendulum and it’s always in motion. When you experience great failures know that on the other end there will be dynamic success. Keep your celebrations of upswings minimal because you know that life, even as you celebrate, is still in motion and the pendulum may be swinging away. If you celebrate moderately when you are on the  high, you will anguish only moderately when you are low. Remember that not everything, except life and death, is a life and death matter.  Enjoy life’s high points but don’t go overboard, exalting the wins makes it harder to swallow the losses. And there will be losses because life is in motion.

And lastly,  if I may add one more thing on this lovely day before so many proud graduates and even prouder  parents, and I am sure your parents will agree on this,  money comes and goes, people come into your life and make exits just as easily. But it’s the time we share that matters.  My mother used to say “We have noting in life that we can truly give another person beside our time and our word.” And I give you my word today that if you want to make your time matter, then share it with as many people as you can. Give them a minute of your time to listen to them, give them 10 seconds to say hello and shake a hand. Give them a few hours of comfort when they need solace and a few other hours in celebrating when they earned it. And when you spread your time among others, like love, it comes back to you in multitudes. People will always have time for you, and in that time they will be giving you a gift of immeasurable wealth. Be sure to appreciate that.

And as you graduate, move through this door to another stage of life, another chapter in your as yet unwritten book, take your time to live, to learn, to share and to love. Good luck, you are just beginning, congratulations!

When Yuki had to black out teeth at a meet because she lost a bet to me

I dedicate this post to Yuki Matsushima and Mari Schroeder. My two team graduating seniors that have been like my

This picture doesn't show Mari's amazing leaps but it's still pretty darn good.

This picture doesn’t show Mari’s amazing leaps but it’s still pretty darn good.

daughters since they were little girls. The world awaits them and I am sure that it will be made better place by these two brilliant young women:  by the strength of their character and the strength of their hearts. Thank you, Yukes and Marz, so much for letting me and Gymfinity be a part of your life’s time. I love you both.


Jason Orkowski

Jason Orkowski

A Little about me

Born and raised in Milwaukee Wisconsin, I started gymnastics inthe late 70's and started coaching in 1980 to help offset the expenses of my own participation. I graduated from UW LaCrosse with a BS in Physical Education, then went back and got another BS in Health Education. That was 1989.

Having coached around the country at camps, clubs and clinics I opened my own gym in 1999...Gymfinity. 

In 2010 I was brought on as a consultant to 3rd Level Consulting working with business leaders in the children's acivity center industry, specializing in human resources and marketing as well as setting up business systems. 

I married a wonderful friend and partner in 2001 and Stephanie and I have 2 children; Owen (2004) and Emmett (2008). 

September 2014
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